I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the beautiful and talented Amina ElDemirdash. I discovered Amina's work through Instagram and I've been following her work for a long time now.
When I was making my list of artists to interview for this feature, she was the first that came to mind. I always admired her style and technique, so I decided to give it a shot and see if she would be my first artist feature. And I'm so happy I did because I couldn't think of a better way to introduce this piece.
I like to believe that Amina is on her way to becoming our generation's Margo Veillon. Her spontaneous brush strokes and appreciation for the beauty of imperfection in a society that mainly highlights the importance of vanity is quite special and definitely adds a certain depth within her work. She's constantly inspired by the characters of people as opposed to their physical appearances, as well as architecture and places that appeal to her.
You may have seen her work in the Zamalek Art Gallery. And if you haven't you're missing out big time. El Demirdash is currently paving the way for herself in the art world and if you're not a fan yet, wait till you read this interview.
Did you always know you wanted to become an artist?
No, I didn't. I probably started thinking about it mid way through university. I was a Business and Economics major, but I didn't enjoy it. I always loved art but back then I was hesitant because I thought "Oh having a bachelors in art, what am I going to do?" and my parents, who are supportive now, weren't very happy with the idea back then, but I went ahead with it anyway and decided to follow my intuitions.
I actually had my first exhibition with two of my friends while we were in university. There was an empty apartment that we decided to paint ourselves, we made flyers and handed them out literally everywhere, and to my surprise a lot of people showed up. It was very successful, and we ended up selling a lot of our paintings. After that I went and did an interview with Safar Khan and had my first exhibition.
Who are the artists that inspire you?
I actually see a little of Veillon's influence in your work.
Everyone says that! I absolutely love her work. I love Toulouse-Lautrec and William de Kooning too. Hmm who else. Oh and Paul Guiragossian. You'll notice that I lean more towards the impressionistic and expressionistic era.
What is your creative process like? Is there a certain routine or ritual you follow to get the creative juices flowing and stay inspired?
I don't know. It's different with every exhibition.
For my last collection, it was actually the first time I used acrylics and pastels. I usually use oil paints. The collection was inspired by an Italian teacher I met while I was in Italy for a few courses. Her character, figure and everything triggered the whole series. So this was a person who inspired me.
The one before that was called "The Blue Door." I had just gotten married, and I painted my door blue. It was a symbolic gesture of me embarking on a completely new chapter in my life and inspired the idea behind my solo exhibition.
And the one before that was landscapes in Egypt. So I think it just comes, you know there's no specific formula for it.
And how do you overcome creative mind blocks?
I take a break.
So you don't just keep on painting and painting until something just sparks?
No. I can't do that. I can easily not paint for weeks. And then something comes and I go back to painting endlessly.
I find the visual contradictions within your work so fascinating. Your art contains an untamed nature with the loose lines and as an end result, you tend to deliver a very ‘collected’ aesthetic. Do you usually plan this out or just ‘go with the flow'?
Oh wow, really? No I don't. Well first of all I use a knife, I don't use a brush. And if I use a brush then it's very old, rough and dry because I never buy new brushes. I don't like soft strokes, I'm more of into the 3D effect and giving the paintings some depth. I actually paint straight from the tube. I rarely use a colour palette. That's usually how it goes. But sometimes I could have an idea sketched, and sometimes I can just change it, depending on how I feel. But most of the time, no.
How do you know when a painting is finished?
There's a quote I heard that relates to this, it goes something like; "An artist needs to know when to stop." And it's so true. But I feel like I know when it's finished. And if I feel like it's not getting there, I just get rid of it, I get really agitated. I can't leave it and then get back to it later. That annoys me. It's either finished or out it goes.
Although there is a certain appreciation for art, the concept is not quite absorbed within our society and thus it could be quite discouraging being an artist in Cairo. How do you keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
I think people are becoming more aware of art in Egypt. It was difficult in the beginning of course, you know, when people used to ask, "Oh so you're an artist? No seriously, what's your real job? what are you really going to do?"
I love doing what I do, so I don't find that people's opinions really affect how I approach my work. I mean I do my own thing on the side, I produce my own organic honey. I used to work in a nursery as a school manager for three years, but it killed my time for art, so I quit and now art is my main thing. But I stay interested in my work because I love it.
But what's hard is finding quality art courses here in Cairo. That's something really missing here. So you start to look at courses abroad and that's when I went to Italy for a few months for contemporary drawing and painting.
What is one of your proudest accomplishments, career-wise?
I don't think it's happened yet.
That's a good answer!
(The above piece is part of Zamalek Art Gallery's MASTERPIECES collection.)
What do you think about the art scene in Egypt? How do you think we can improve and bring more attention to it? Is the Egyptian society ready?
You need to specify which segment of society you're talking about. If we're talking about the majority and the government, no one cares, you know? "There are bigger issues." There are paintings that are being stolen because there's no security, so I don't really think they care.
But minority wise, generally, there is a certain appreciation and it's slowly growing. For example, there's an event going on now at the Aisha Fahmy Palace, they recently renovated it and took a few pieces from the Mahmoud Khalil museum exhibiting amazing works all from Egyptian and International artists.
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
I guess to be a bit more open-minded. What I mean by open-minded is to simply just be more accepting. To accept figure drawings.
I know that my art isn't vivid in terms of detail but I still get a lot of looks from people feeling uncomfortable in the presence of my work. And I mean it's nothing. This is like the basic of the basic, there's still life and then there's figure drawings. It's ridiculous.
So I take it you don't keep the audience's opinions in mind when painting?
Nope, I don't.
That's amazing! What goals are you working on achieving through your work? Where do you want your art to take you?
I want to do solo exhibitions on an international scale. This is what I'm mainly heading towards. I also eventually would like to get a masters degree in Art management and Curating. Apply more to awards and grants, which is something I'm already doing.
And hopefully before the age of 35, I'd love to have a painting featured in a permanent collection in a big, renowned museum.
If you had to pick 3 artists (dead or alive) to invite for a dinner, who would you choose?
I would pick Toulouse-Lautrec for sure because I think he's got a lot of character. I would actually also pick Van Gogh because I find the way he just developed his own colour theory incredible. And probably Frida Kahlo. But that doesn't necessarily mean I like her work, but she's quite the personality and I'd like to meet her.
If you could own one work of art what would it be?
Toulouse-Lautrec. Anything of his.
How can one acquire your work?
And finally, are there any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
I'm currently working on a solo exhibition for December in Zamalek Art Gallery.
Can't wait for that.
What did you think about the interview? Are there any other questions you'd like to ask? Comment your thoughts!
all images courtesy of Amina ElDemirdash